Jesus said, “Come with Me to a desert place,” . . . not sure about liking that invitation, but I am sure about being there to discover dry and desperate places. Places He will bring fresh springs to. Maybe this invite comes with a wink and it feels more like . . . a promise. Advent.
(a Facebook memory from my friend Mark Walker)
My friend Mark is pastor of the Village Vineyard in Beaufort, SC, and is one of the most missions-minded folks I know. From someone with several friends of diverse nationalities who are missionaries the world over, that’s a pretty high compliment I’m paying him. Although I’ve never personally seen his passport, I’m certain its pages are filled with stamps from numerous countries, one of his favorites being Sudan.
If Tony Bennett can croon about leaving his heart in San Francisco, I imagine he can only be rivaled by Mark’s southern drawl humming the same tune while exchanging the favored place to South Sudan. Every time Mark recounts a story from his visits there, his eyes light up brighter than the twinkling bulbs on a Christmas tree. So when he writes about a dry and desperate place, I can’t help but wonder what particular corner of the world comes to mind for him personally. South Sudan may be filled with dry and desperate places, yet God continues to draw Mark there and to show His presence in some pretty miraculous ways.
Maybe that’s why my friend is able to notice the subtle wink of His Savior and to look with hope for springs certain to come, even in desert places. Because he knows when we accept the Lord’s invitation to “Come with Me,” some pretty incredible things are guaranteed to happen.
My friend’s gospel-writing namesake reminds us of a time Jesus invited His disciples to come away to a deserted place so they could rest awhile. In Mark 6:31, it seems Jesus and His buddies had been bombarded by so many people that they had no leisure time for even a bite to eat. The disciples had just returned from being sent out among the people where they had experienced God’s power being unleashed through them with miraculous signs and wonders. They were most likely filled with excitement and exhaustion that accompanied preaching the gospel and pouring out their efforts in this new way. After all the hubbub, they were probably overwhelmed by the commotion of the throngs who followed Jesus wherever He traveled. Knowing they were close to burnout, Christ encourages His disciples to come away to a deserted place with Him so they could rest.
But as the disciples were soon to learn, sometimes what we really need is not so much a place to rest, but an opportunity to encounter the miraculous. One more time.
While the disciples were anticipating a quiet place to debrief with Jesus, they were instead met by yet another press of crowds who had rightly predicted where the Savior and His boatload of friends were heading. In their desire to be near Jesus, the masses ran along the shore and got there ahead of Him. When Jesus saw the huge crowd gathered to meet Him, He had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things. (Mark 6:34)
Ever-patient and always concerned with the welfare of others, Jesus pushes off His own desires while settling Himself among the people and teaching them Kingdom principles. We aren’t told how the disciples responded to meeting up with the masses yet again, but eventually they did address Jesus:
By now the hour was already late. So the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is already late. Dismiss the crowd so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat.” — Mark 6:35-37
While the disciples were more focused on their own exhaustion (and perhaps their rumbling stomachs, as well), Jesus remained intently focused upon others. He knew the people were hungry, both physically and spiritually. This was an opportunity to supply for both of those needs. When the disciples suggested sending the crowd away so they could obtain something to eat, Jesus had a better idea. One that would provide the chance for a miracle to reveal itself to the masses and on an individual level: You give them something to eat.
Chances are the disciples looked and saw the insurmountable goal of feeding the masses, while Jesus looked to the Father and saw the inexhaustible resources available at all times. No needs arise unforeseen. No challenges lie beyond the reach of Jesus’ power. And the invitation to be a part of the provision is extended still to those who are willing to partner with the Lord in His endeavors to care for others.
But Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat,”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” He asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
The disciples must have thought the five loaves and two fish to be absurdly insufficient for feeding the surrounding crowd, yet they returned to Jesus with their meager supply. And once the resources were yielded into the waiting hands of the Messiah, a great increase was in the making.
To summarize the remainder of the story: Jesus received the loaves and fishes, gave thanks for them and blessed them, then broke the bread into pieces and divided the fish, giving them into the hands of His disciples to be distributed to the people who were now seated and waiting. The group of 5,000 men plus their families all ate until they were satisfied, and still there were leftovers. Twelve baskets full of bread and fish, to be precise!
Come with Me to a desert place,” . . . not sure about liking that invitation. . .
But Maybe, just maybe . . .
This invite comes with a wink and it feels more like . . . a promise.
Sometimes the needs staring us in the face can feel as overwhelming as feeding a crowd of 5,000+ with a handful of bread and fish. Maybe you are facing such challenges today be it in relationships, providing spiritual or physical care for others, or literally attempting to place food on your own family’s table. Life can take us to some pretty desperate places, but how we respond to God while we are there is key to our life with Him and to the results we will receive. Are you willing to place your “five loaves and two fish” into His outstretched hands?
“Jesus would have us count our own resources, not that we may fling up His work in despair, but that we may realize our dependence on Him, and that the consciousness of our own insufficiency may not diminish one jot our sense of obligation to feed the multitude. It is good to learn our own weakness if it drives us to lean on His strength. ‘Five loaves and two fishes,’ plus Jesus Christ, come to a good deal more than ‘two hundred pennyworth of bread.’ (from MacLaren’s Exposition on Mark 6)